OC Republican party

In the latest milestone of Orange County’s shifting political milieu, Republicans’ share of voter registration has fallen below 40 percent for the first time in the county’s history.(Register Photo)

By Martin Wisckol / Staff Writer
Dec. 9, 2015
Updated Dec. 10, 2015 – 7:54 a.m.

In the latest milestone of Orange County’s shifting political milieu, Republicans’ share of voter registration has fallen below 40 percent for the first time in the county’s history.

That’s 8 percentage points more than the Democrats’ share but marks an ongoing slide from Republicans’ 22-point dominance in 1990, the GOP’s zenith in the county, according to county elections statistics updated this week.

The growth in voters with no party preference – at 24 percent, up from 10 percent in 1990 – is a key part of the shift. While Democrats’ current 32 percent share of registration has stayed fairly constant since 1990, the GOP share has fallen from 55.6 percent.

One major factor is the county’s burgeoning ethnic diversity, with Latinos particularly more likely to align with Democrats. Another is that older, white voters – where GOP support is strongest – are dying off and being replaced by younger voters turned off by the party’s traditional stances on gay, immigration and climate change issues.

“This is a generation where kids are coming out (as gay) in K-12,” said Jodi Balma, a Fullerton College political scientist. “These are their friends, their cousins, their brothers. And they’ve seen the superstorms hit New York and New Jersey.

“As for immigration, the dreamers (undocumented immigrant students) are very visible on campus. They’re their friends, their classmates who are being threatened with deportation.”

GOP rhetoric on social issues is often loudest at the national level, while many Republicans in the county and state are focusing more narrowly on education, limited government and an improved business environment.

Orange County’s growing wave of GOP Asian candidates, in particular, are often more amenable to immigration reform and social programs than earlier generations of Republican candidates. And while the county GOP’s job is to register voters, raise money and get out the vote – rather than promote policy – the organization also reflects a shift in emphasis.

“In communities that we haven’t traditionally been strong in, we’re focusing on the issues we have in common,” said county GOP Chairman Fred Whitaker, specifying that the emphasis in Latino communities is on educational choice and making it easier for small businesses to succeed.

Whitaker said he’s “not all that concerned” by the latest numbers. He noted that another county GOP initiative is to win back former Republicans who have joined the growing ranks of independent voters. His focus is on the long term.

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